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30/04/2021 – Trends In Trade / Veganism / Plant-based / Stem & Glory

CONVERGING MOVEMENTS – Veganism and Plant-based diets

Louise Palmer-Masterton – founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory – describes the origins and evolution of the ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ movements, exploring areas of distinction between the terms, and anticipating their future convergence.


The term ‘plant-based’ was coined to make it appealing for health reasons, without getting into the ethical debate – but does that really mean vegans are more ethical than those defining as plant-based? 


In our business, this is something that comes up often, most recently because our new tagline is ‘Gloriously Plant-based’. I get asked frequently if that means I’ve abandoned veganism. Yet for me, the two things mean the same. In fact, we are all about wholefood plant-based ingredients, ethically sourced, low carbon, circular, compassionate and cruelty-free. So, is that vegan or plant-based? And what’s the difference anyway?


I decided to dip my toe into this argument and try to deconstruct it in my own mind.


Origins


The term ‘vegan’ was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson and friends, although it wasn’t until the 1980s that veganism was clearly defined as follows: “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”


Interestingly, in the US, Dr T. Colin Campbell coined the term ‘plant-based’ around the same time, following research at the National Institute of Health that showed the therapeutic impact of a low-fat, high-fibre, vegetable-based diet on cancer. He was seeking a term that described this diet without invoking ethical considerations. Dr Campbell further defined the term by adding ‘wholefood’ to ‘plant-based’ to draw the distinction that it is specifically a wholefood plant-based diet that has health benefits.


In other words, veganism is about the abstention from animal products, not necessarily with reference to healthy foods, whereas wholefood plant-based is very much focused around the health benefits of following the diet.


Evolution


In the early 1980s, veganism was very fringe, and ‘plant-based’ was unheard of. However, through the ‘80s and ‘90s, as people’s consciousness started to shift, many began to question the ethics of eating meat.


At this time, it was activist movements that were driving the vegan movement forward. But the activist associations were uncomfortable for some people, and a mainstream negative association kept veganism as a fringe movement. 


Once we moved into the 2000s, however, that started to change: the term ‘plant-based’ began to break into the mainstream – and, as we moved into the 2010s, that movement and the term suddenly started to gain traction.


But is it a bad thing for the vegan movement that the term ‘plant-based’ was popularised? I’d suggest that the term ‘plant-based’ has contributed significantly to the rise in popularity of veganism, and that they share responsibility for the rise of interest in the vegan movement with regard to animal welfare and health.


Environmental Impact


There’s another huge factor in the growth of both movements, and that is the environment. When I became vegan, it was for the animals – but back then, in the same way that health was not a key driver for those adopting a vegan lifestyle, the environment also wasn't mentioned. Now, however, the environmental arguments have become increasingly compelling – to the point where they can no longer be ignored. Most people I know now actively try to eat fewer animal products. But are these people eating more vegan food or more wholefood plant-based food? And is one better for the environment?


I had a friend that questioned my veganism years ago. He held up a processed vegan product and said to me ‘this doesn’t contain animals, but it does contain humans’. He made a good point. The life-blood of humans goes into processing and manufacturing – and processing is wasted energy. The more you process a food product, the more energy you use. 


So, on this point, a wholefood plant-based diet is better for the environment and health than a vegan diet containing processed foods.


Stem & Glory is going to stick with being both wholefood plant-based and vegan, but I do think we’ll see wholefood plant-based and veganism converging in the coming years.


About the author


Louise Palmer-Masterton is founder of multiple award-winning Stem & Glory – hip and trendy but accessible wholefood plant-based restaurants, serving delicious gourmet vegan food from locally-sourced ingredients. Stem & Glory also offers a range of ready-meals and recipe kits available for delivery across the UK.  www.stemandglory.uk

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